Our demo has arrived and we’ve been logging the miles on the new Santa Cruz Heckler MX. The not so long in the tooth SC Heckler saw an update late last year. Contrary to most trends in the bike world, it saw reduced travel, going from 150mm to 140mm of rear suspension. In line with current MTB trends, the Heckler MX gets the mullet treatment with a 29” front wheel and a smaller 27.5” rear wheel. A trend that makes a ton of sense for eMTBs. So what do we think of it? Guess you’re going to have to read on to find out.
Santa Cruz Heckler MX Geometry
I’ve covered the biggest changes to the Heckler’s geometry in our Heckler MX first look article. Go read that if you want the juiciest details. Here, we are just going to recap the highlights and move on to how the thing actually rides. Ready, set, go.
Head tube angle – 64.6°
Seat tube angle – 75.1°
Reach – 456mm (L)
Wheelbase – 1235mm (L)
Chainstay – 445mm
Let’s talk about some of these numbers really quick. Compared to the standard 27.5” Heckler, the MX’s geometry is a little different. The slacker head tube doesn’t actually come from the front triangle having a different shape. Instead, it comes from the 29” fork, effectively adding height to the front of the bike. When you add height up front, you tip the bike back, making the head tube and seat tube angles slacker. The reach subsequently shrinks as well. It’s not that noticeable between the two bikes, however. The reach is shorter on the MX, but the seat tube angle is also slacker. Basically, the seated position feels the same as the steeper Heckler with a longer reach. You’ll only notice the difference in reach when you’re standing up going downhill. Except, I’d argue that you won’t feel much difference at all because the wheelbase is nearly identical between the two. Still with me? Since the rear wheel is the same size, the chainstays remain the same at 445mm. I really like this mullet concept on an eMTB. One problem with a lot of 29” eMTBs is the chainstay length. When there’s a motor in your bottom bracket, there physically isn’t room to make the chainstays shorter. They can get pretty out of hand on some bikes. By nature, a 27.5” wheel is smaller, allowing for a shorter chainstay and subsequent more maneuverable bike. Alright, I’m done talking about numbers and nerd stuff.
Santa Cruz Heckler MX – Battery and Motor Stuff
I rarely like to get into the technical nerdery of mountain biking. I enjoy it even less on eMTBs. Maybe it’s because there’s some sort of magic happening with all the electronics and computers that I just can’t wrap my head around. Maybe it’s just that I’d rather ride the bike and pay attention to how it really feels, rather than focus on technical details that don’t really affect how much fun I have on a bike. Either way, I’m not getting into all the nitty-gritty with this review when it comes to battery, motor, torque, volts, joules, coulombs, 88 mph, and 1.21 gigawatts.
Here’s what I think actually matters. Is there enough power to get the bike up a ridiculously steep hill that I couldn’t pedal on my acoustic bike? Yes. Very much yes. In fact, riding in the highest power mode made some technical sections of the trail difficult. There was almost too much power. Who am I kidding? Too much power isn’t a thing. The second important question is if there’s enough battery to go do a big ride and not get stranded? Again, yes. I never ran the battery all the way dead, but I did forget to charge the bike after a long day of riding. Lucky for me, there was still enough battery for a second long day of riding. I was running on fumes pulling into the parking lot, but what I’m saying is the battery last a good long while. I wouldn’t be worried about doing 25-30 mile rides. That said, the battery life depends on about 12 million different factors and your mileage might vary, literally.
Lastly, does the motor feel awkward, loud, clunky, etc? You know, the stuff that makes you annoyed with your bike. Yes and no. The motor feels very smooth — there’s no doubt about that. It ramps on nicely and doesn’t feel like someone just slammed on the brakes when you hit 20mph (the limit on class 1 eMTBs.) It does suffer from the e-bike motor rattle that we’ve seen on the Shimano EP8 system. After a few minutes, you don’t notice it too much. If it really drives you crazy I have two suggestions. One, never stop pedaling. The rattle only happens when you’re coasting. Number two, buy a pair of headphones.
Santa Cruz Heckler MX Ride Impressions
I’ve been riding a lot of eMTBs lately. I’m starting to find that while they all are way faster than an acoustic bike on the climbs, some eMTBs climb better than others. The Heckler is one of those.
I’ve been spending a ton of time on the lighter, smaller, and less powerful Orbea Rise lately. One of my favorite things about that bike is its agility and maneuverability. It’s way less of a chore to manage and control that bike underneath you. When switching over to the Heckler MX, I was a bit concerned that it would feel like a wrestling match just to control the bike. While it takes more effort than managing the Rise, the Heckler MX surprised me with its maneuverability. It didn’t come with as big of a technical climbing penalty as I had imagined. It does surprisingly well in that department. Watch our Lightweight vs Full-Power eMTB video to hear all my thoughts on that topic. The Rise is able to make its way up technical climbing with brute force. There’s enough power and torque to get up and over almost any obstacle. Some of the tighter and more balance-intensive climbs, the Heckler MX struggled a bit — less than most other full-power eMTBs, however.
Lower link VPP bikes tend to feel pretty active while climbing. While that’s not always the best for going uphill quickly, it is great for providing tons of traction. The Heckler MX feels fairly active under pedaling forces, but don’t worry, it has a motor. The extra smoothness and traction outweigh the slight inefficiency, especially on an eMTB.
I really liked the way the standard 27.5” Heckler felt on the descents. It had an ultra-plush and stable feel to it. The Heckler MX doesn’t quite match that, but it is a more lively feeling ride. It brings the same level of capability in a totally different ride feel.
We need to talk about three things here to really understand how the Heckler MX feels on the descents. The first being the reduction in travel length. The Heckler MX loses 10mm of rear travel and 20mm of fork travel compared to the Heckler. It also gains a bigger 29” front wheel. I think the overall degree of capability remains unchanged between the two. Less travel does make the MX feel less plush, though. It doesn’t have that ooey-gooey feeling that a lot of eMTBs have. Instead, it feels more firm and supportive — not a bad thing if you ask me. Heavy eMTBs can already feel a little dead. Throw in plush suspension and it can make it impossible to get the bike off the ground. The Heckler MX is much easier to get airborne. It feels more lively and energetic than its small-wheeled brother.
The second thing we need to talk about is the fork. Interestingly Santa Crux specced the Heckler MX with the lighter-duty RockShox Pike. That one doesn’t make a ton of sense to me on an eMTB, especially since the 27.5” version gets a Fox 36 or similar. I think Santa Cruz was trying to put more separation between the Heckler and the Heckler MX. I wouldn’t hate trying the bike with a stiffer “all-mountain” level fork. But, it’s not a dealbreaker as the Pike is very capable in its own right.
The last thing we need to talk about is the Heckler MX’s willingness to be your adventure buddy. Most eMTBs are pretty good at getting you to places you wouldn’t visit on your acoustic bike, but the Heckler MX seems tailor-made for the task. If you’ve watched the video, you’ll see that I got pretty lost while filming the review. I mean, I got “Moses wandering in the desert for 40 years” kind of lost. I’m incredibly happy I had the Heckler MX with me for that little adventure. First of all, I had all my heavy camera gear with me, I was exhausted from riding all week, and I was riding a trail that I’d never ridden before (the word trail is used loosely in this context.) The Heckler MX is the perfect tool for the job. It has all the power of the big eMTBs but feels more like a lightweight one in how it rides. It’s not a wrestling match, it doesn’t become a full upper body workout and it’s light enough you can walk it, push it, and pedal it around the desert looking for mana from heaven — or the trailhead. I’d take it over something like the Orbea Rise in this scenario due to the extra power of the EP8. I’d take it over the Bullit because it’s more agile for riding those trails that don’t always look like trails. Also, it doesn’t feel like overkill on mellower terrain.
Who is the Santa Cruz Heckler MX for?
If you’re looking for a full-power eMTB that isn’t built like a tank, the Heckler MX is your option. It has all the juice of a heavyweight in a welterweight package. If you like going on big adventure rides where you take every last deer trail you come across, buy a Heckler MX. I’d also recommend it to anyone with a poor sense of direction. Not that I’d know anything about that.